Exploring Backroads and Pirate Lore on the Cycle North Carolina Coastal Ride

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Exploring Backroads and Pirate Lore on the Cycle North Carolina Coastal Ride

David T. Whitaker


October 23, 2018


As the brown landscapes and chilly riding weather takes hold in November, it’s a good time to begin planning for Spring bicycle tours in 2019.

Remember that idyllic spring vacation where the new leaves on the trees appeared almost luminescent green and the emerging smell of blossoms permeated the air with the sweet smell of “summer is coming”? Cyclists long for the change of season from Winter to Spring where choosing between knickers and cycling shorts signals that long fingered gloves are no longer required for a day’s bicycle ride

Most of us long for those cool April days when the lingering chilliness of late winter welcomes the recent arrival of sunny days with the transformation of the countryside with early tree foliage, emerging spring flowers, and budding plants in the fields. The finest spring cycling conditions feature sunny days with many shades of green foliage, and red, yellow, purple and white blossoms beneath azure blue skies and wisp-like white clouds. That and a great return tailwind can be found daily on the three-day Coastal Ride.

The mid-April Coastal Ride, organized by Cycle North Carolina and North Carolina Amateur Sports, is just this sort of cycling event. The Coastal Ride is an extended weekend in eastern North Carolina with just enough cool spring cycling options to build “base cycling miles” along inviting roads with few vertical challenges and abundant local heritage and character.

The 2018 Coastal Ride was centered in “Little” Washington, NC, which is located along the scenic Pamlico River about 110 miles west of Nags Head and the North Carolina Outer Banks. A small community of under 10,000 persons, Little Washington is known for its stately homes and gardens, its scenic waterfront and the town’s distinctive arts and entertainment venue, the Turnage Theatre.

Since 2004, the organizers choose one of three different eastern North Carolina towns as host communities for the April Coastal Ride; rotating between the “inner bank” towns of Edenton, Oriental and Little Washington, NC. This year’s Coastal Ride drew 2,000 participants from 38 states and Canada to Little Washington.


The Cycle North Carolina Coastal Ride is planned for April 26-28, 2019 in Edenton, NC. So, if you seek an early spring weekend to build some and enjoy traditional downtowns and seafaring heritage, keep this in mind in 2019. https://cnc.ncsports.org/


Attracting an older demographic of cyclists, the average age of Coastal Ride participants in 2018 was 58 years. Billed as a “family cycling event,” the ride offerings were designed to meet the needs of all ages of cyclists and included routes from 10 to 100 miles, including metric centuries (60 mile routes). This variation in mileage resulted in an abundance of family-oriented rides, in addition to longer routes catering to stronger legs. Featuring non-horizontally challenges landscapes, one sees many tandems, recumbents and an occasional tandem recumbent along the roads. With a “tent city” adjacent to the Pamlico River waterfront, late afternoon and evenings were festive with cyclists, families and music in abundance while local musicians could be heard both at the nearby Visitor’s Center and at nearby venues along Main Street. The historic Turnage Theatre featured local musicians each night, including participatory old-time harmony singing with mandolin, fiddle and dobro accompaniment and an evening featuring a superb New Orleans-style ensemble of local jazz elders pushed on by raucous crowd of jazz loving cyclists and locals.

A unique aspect of the 2018 Coastal Ride was the Tent City along the Pamlico River waterfront. The tents along with several RV’s and recreational trailers created a village-like atmosphere along the waterfront area of Little Washington. The Tent City campers brought cyclists, families and many dollars to downtown businesses over the three-ay tour.  An unexpected revelation is that the tour appears to have introduced dockless bike share to Little Washington. Seen throughout downtown that weekend were Lime Bikes. They appeared to be used by campers as well as residents as an easy access means of transportation to get around town. Who knows? Perhaps dockless bike share will be a feature at other cycling tours over the next year.


History is a significant draw of the Coastal Tour. The byways in and around Little Washington area feature extensive heritage sites from North Carolina’s past. Clearly seen from the bicycle saddle over the US17 bridge was the remnant of Civil War era Union warship “Picket,” which was destroyed in an explosion in September 1862. Also of interest was the colonial village of Bath, NC, along the Pamlico River, which was once home to the infamous pirate Edward Teach.

Better known by the name “Blackbeard,” Edward Teach was a notorious early 18th century pirate who plundered sailing vessels in the Caribbean and along the Atlantic seaboard. During North Carolina’s early colonial era, the extensive water inlets and rivers in the Pamlico Sound provided excellent cover and sanctuary for the ships of prominent privateers and pirates. Early settlements were once home to pirate leaders, but none more infamous than Blackbeard, who was briefly a resident of Bath having received a pardon for pirating from an early North Carolina Governor. Not content to put aside his swashbuckling ways, Blackbeard continued to pillage oceangoing ships for loot and captives. Under orders from a Virginia Governor, Blackbeard was aggressively pursued by the British navy. Ultimately, Blackbeard lost his life and his head in sea battle with British vessels at Ocracoke Island, NC 400 years ago this November.

Coastal Road cyclists were offered a unique rest stop in the historic Town of Bath on Saturday ride. In addition to its pirate legacy, Bath was the first incorporated town in North Carolina. Today Bath has a focus on heritage tourism, sail boating and early North Carolina architecture and lore.

Traveling by bicycle on seldom-used country roads and small highways in the area, the Coastal Ride provided routes with few cars and trucks and ample, well stocked and host-friendly rest stops. The routes skirted coastal bays with glimpses of fishing vessels, newly tilled farm fields, swamps and tree lines and seafaring heritage sites. If hills and ridge climbing are what you prefer in April, this part of North Carolina is not for you.

Drawing a range of cyclists at various speed levels, the Coastal Ride offered many a paceline to shelter from prevailing winds and to provide companionship for traveling down the country roads. With little elevation and ample opportunities to tag onto pacelines, cyclists were able to cover considerable distances with less time and effort.

A unique post-ride dining experience was recommended by local residents. The classic hot dogs served at Bill’s Hot Dogs on Gladden Street, across from the Visitor’s Center were a not-to-be-missed culinary experience in Little Washington. Located in a small storefront that has been in operation since 1928, Bill’s Hot Dogs has the classic 1930’s era feel and they serve a classic chili dog that will put a smile on your face after any ride.

In 2019, the Coastal Ride organizers plan to rotate the Coastal Ride north to the Town of Edenton, NC. A charming historic town along scenic Alblemarle Sound, Edenton was an 18th century colonial capital of North Carolina and its historic downtown is a destination for cyclists. Like Little Washington, Edenton’s main street will tempt one to enter unique shops and venues where the smells of regional foods, and local music and arts rounds out your evening before you head back to the tent or a nearby inn for the night. The Cycle North Carolina Coastal Ride is planned for April 26-28, 2019. So, if you seek an early spring weekend to build some and enjoy traditional downtowns and seafaring heritage, keep this in mind in 2019. https://cnc.ncsports.org/


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